Between 1900 and 2000, life expectancy in the United States increased from 51 to 80 for females and from 48 to 74 for males, according to data from the National Center for Health Statistics.
This increase in life span means that the population’s healthcare needs have become increasingly complex — as are the interdisciplinary skills nurses need to care for patients.
We talked to leaders of three nursing education programs in Rochester to find out how they equip students with the interdisciplinary skills critical to today’s complex healthcare environment.
St. John Fisher University: Nurses are the linchpin
At St. John Fisher University, interdisciplinary learning starts the very first semester of both undergraduate and graduate nursing study, says Dr. Tricia Gatlin, dean of the university’s Wegmans School of Nursing.
“The most important reason for interprofessional education is that when health care professionals graduate and go out into the working world they know how to work as a team,” said Gatlin, who calls health care demand and complexity higher than it has ever been due to people living longer. “From day one we tell our nursing students they are the linchpin of this interdisciplinary team.”
Gatlin began seeing a move towards greater interprofessional care about a decade ago, with the biggest movement happening in the past five years. When she observes her students in clinical locations she notes that it is no longer uncommon to see a nursing professional leading patient rounds.
In addition to clinical experiences and classroom instruction, St. John Fisher University also promotes interdisciplinary learning via its Interprofessional Simulation Center (IPE Sim Center). The center, funded by a grant from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation, opened last year.
Inside the IPE Sim Center, nursing and pharmacy students engage in collective learning, professional role discovery and skill development. Among its features is a primary care lab with six hospital beds and an electronic health record system and a medication dispensary. There are also virtual reality and 3-D medical printing capabilities and technology such as iPads on wheels, which allow telehealth capabilities.
Ultimately, Gatlin hopes to expand virtual reality opportunities within the IPE Sim Center to include international, multidisciplinary partnerships with schools like the Medical University of Lublin in Poland.
Roberts Wesleyan University: Patient care is everyone’s responsibility
At Roberts Wesleyan University, undergraduate nursing students are formally introduced to the concept of integrated care in their sophomore year via the Introduction to Professional Nursing Concepts course.
Every April the university emphasizes interdisciplinary care by bringing students from nursing and other health — including mental health — disciplines together for a large-scale, hands-on, simulation training event. One of the goals is to show nursing students that when they enter the professional world they will be part of an interdisciplinary team.
Among the scenarios in this April’s simulation: A couple who were in a car accident (one died due to a heart attack), two children who suffered burns in a cooking accident, and a victim of domestic violence.
“Almost all of the ‘patients’ in the simulation had social work needs,” said Dr. Robert Dorman, director of traditional and graduate nursing programs and associate professor at Roberts Wesleyan University. “The simulation helps our students realize patient care is everyone’s responsibility. At the end of the day, they are amazed by how integrated the experience was.”
Dorman began his career as a registered nurse and has seen first-hand how much more integrated nursing has become as technology has improved — to the point where sicker patients live longer, often at home.
“More and more we’re seeing complex patients being cared for outside of critical care areas,” Dorman said. “To adequately manage a complex patient, you really need to have nursing involved.”
SUNY Brockport: Health care is not delivered in a bubble
When Dr. Kathy Peterson, professor, and chair of nursing at SUNY Brockport, started as a staff nurse in 1979 she had five days to teach a family about taking care of their in-patient child diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes.
“Today, that teaching is done in the emergency department and the family is sent home,” Peterson, who is also a board-certified Primary Care Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, said. “The acuity is so much greater and because the acuity skills have had to change, the health care team really relies on each other now. We have seen a great increase in teamwork and collaboration in patient care.”
At SUNY Brockport simulated learning plays a big part in teaching interdisciplinary skills in addition to classroom teaching and clinical experience.
Simulated laboratory learning came to SUNY Brockport in 2012 and has been used in earnest since 2015. The school’s newly renovated nursing facility has multiple simulation rooms, a 12-bed fundamental lab, an 8-bed assessment lab and a 32-seat computer lab.
In 2016 the school began a two-hour immersive experience called the Community Action Poverty Simulation where nursing students work with students and professionals in other fields such as social work and public administration in order to increase their understanding of poverty from a structural level and to promote community change.
“It’s such an enlightening experience for our students to understand and see the importance that community resources — or a lack of them — have on patient health,” Peterson said. “Health care is not delivered in a bubble.”
A bill passed by the New York State Senate in March and awaiting Governor Kathy Hochul’s signature would allow for at least one-third of required clinical training and competency for licensing as a registered professional nurse, licensed practical nurse, and nurse practitioner to be completed through simulation experience.
SUNY Brockport plans to add 6,000 square feet of space to its nursing facility by 2026, Peterson said, and this, along with the anticipated changes in simulation hours will allow them to accept more nursing students.
Caurie Putnam is a Rochester-area freelance writer.